A 43-year debate on who owns Matthew and Hunter Islands, since the French officially annexed them in 1976 might be coming to end in 2019.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ralph Regenvanu mentioned that Vanuatu has made some recognizable strides in the process of re-claiming Matthew and Hunter from France, such as supporting the policy for the self-determination of Chagos Islands last month in the Netherlands at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Minister Regenvanu explained: “That decision, I arranged lawyers from the UK to represent Vanuatu to push these principles and we won the case, against the higher kingdom, and it very clearly establishes these principles and that’s the first time ever in international law that we have such a strong support in our position for Matthew and Hunter.”
Upon the historic court decision last month at the Peace Palace, Mr. Regenvanu added the principles set by the ICJ in this case (Chagos Islands) will contribute to the resolution of ongoing disputes beyond the Chagos Islands, including negotiations with France over Matthew and Hunter Islands, such discussions, the French have continued to conveniently avoid.
“We started negotiations with France, for the first time ever in 40 years, we are now talking with them at the same table.
“We have asked for a meeting at the second half of last year, but France came back with the excuse that they were focusing on the referendum of New Caledonia so they couldn’t meet us.”
Mr. Regenvanu said that “France is stalling”, however, a meeting has been scheduled for the last week of this month.
With the final week of this month two-weeks away, a Vanuatu delegation has left for Timor Leste a week ago, in attempts to decipher the policy used between Timor Leste and Australia during their dispute of the Maritime boarder that was settled in the Hague, March 2018.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs believes that the catalyst behind the treaty between Australia and Timor Leste, could add to the arsenal of Vanuatu and its claim against the Western European country.
“We had a delegation travel to Timor Leste to learn how they had used articles in the United Nations convention of the law of the sea to force Australia to come to negotiating terms. Because Australia was treating Timor Leste the same way France was treating us.
“Timor Leste used a specific clause to force Australia to come to negotiating table so we send a delegation to Timor Leste to learn how exactly we could use that mechanism if France continues to refuse to negotiate,” the Minister said.